At 22 years old, Jontavious Willis has found a sound that is solidly rooted in the origins of acoustic Blues and carries the finest tradition of the music from the Georgia and North/South Carolina regions.
When it comes to acoustic Blues I can be very picky as to what I enjoy. Acoustic Blues takes a lot of effort to get the right sound that will stand out in the still ongoing and electric age of music. Each compliment the other and electric Blues are completely born of acoustic. But as a result, there aren’t as many left out there who can take this road and find that great sound in acoustic.
Jontavious Willis is one of those rare individuals who can take an acoustic guitar and a resonator guitar and make them absolutely sing with beauty and grace while still being that sneaky mischievous rascal style that earned some disapproval in the old days from the more conservative parts of society.
Thankfully the Blues prevailed because it’s left a rich history to draw on, and one that Jontavious seemingly has a deep connection with.
It’s hard to believe that a musician at his age can be so fully connected to the roots of the music. HIs acoustic work is phenomenal and full of the rich tone and effort that helped to build the Blues into the amazing thing it is today!
On top of that he also plays harp, and not just with his hands. With a guitar in his hands and the lyrics being sung, he also had the harp in his mouth and played it with great effect. It was both amusing and amazing all at the same time to see that many things happening all at once. I’ve only seen one other person play a harmonica like that live, and that was Rick Estrin.
This young man has truly put the work into developing his talent while also going to school online with Columbus University where he is working to obtain his Sociology degree. Which is quite appropriate for someone who is connected to the emotions and depth of the Blues. Taking that study of social behavior and society, he will be able to turn it to writing ever more insightful songs that will resonate deeply with the audience. This is the sign of someone who has a connection and an understanding already but wants to take it to the next level in his life.
His performance was just himself solo, every aspect of the full concert was firmly in his hands. From percussion to melody to vocals. And he handled them all masterfully!
To see someone working that hard solo and getting such a full rich experience into the room that he held the nearly 100 strong audience firmly in the grasp of the music and the mischief, is truly something special.
His turn at the 1936 Casey Bill Weldon tune, “We Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town,” was truly a pleasure. My first experience with the song was the version performed by BB King, and then I heard the many other artists who have covered the tune including Ray Charles, Muddy Waters, and Louis Jordan. And in the majority it was done and recorded with an electric guitar. This was the first time I’d ever heard it done acoustically, and it was something that was an absolute pleasure to hear. A familiar song played in a way that I’d not previously experienced. Jontavious handled the tune with respect and fun, and he carried it off brilliantly!
A particular favorite for me was his original song, “Luxurious Man.” Addressing the whimsical side of the Blues he fully embraced the tongue in cheek fun that can be had when you just let go of the serious and go straight for the fun. His presentation of the song with a smile and an obvious amount of fun made it one of those songs that you couldn’t help but to find yourself laughing and singing along with.
He also took a turn at a tune made famous by Howlin’ Wolf, “Highway 49”. Once again proving that acoustic can still keep up with electric any day of the week. With a passionate approach and full throated commitment to the song, he made it every bit as much fun.
The evening continued with a number of songs that are well known, including “Come See About Me”, “If I Was A Catfish”, and “Step It Up And Go.” These are all songs that have landed firmly in the modern memory as electric tunes. But I can’t stress enough how natural they felt in the acoustic format. Which is something I keep returning to simply because it’s uncommon to hear them done in this style and done well.
I can’t wait to see what the future holds for this already talented and skilled musician as he takes his foundations and his work and continues to hone it over the years of what I hope will be a long and fruitful career!
Check out his tour schedule to see when you can experience this young man live, because you will be truly in for a fantastic evening of fine music!
*This review was not solicited by the musicians or venue.